See Wintering Monarchs at Lighthouse Field State Beach

Santa Cruz, Ca – From mid-October to mid-February, the trees in this park are shelter to thousands of migrating Monarch butterflies. Any other month of the year, this park offers beautiful sunset views and a glimpse at Santa Cruz’s radical surf history.

Species to Look Out For

monarch circle

Monarch Butterfly

About the Park

Santa Cruz, Ca – State Beach

Science Spotlight: Wintering Monarch Butterflies

Just like birds, there is one butterfly that make an annual migration to warmer temperatures. Each year, the monarch butterfly makes its way south to escape freezing temperatures.

Monarchs use environmental cues such as shortened days and colder temperatures to signal that the migration is ready to begin. Two populations of monarch butterflies migrate: one population east of the Rocky Mountains, and one to the west. The eastern population travels all the way down to Central Mexico, with some individuals traveling as far as 3,000 miles.

The western population has an overwintering site right in Santa Cruz at Lighthouse Field State Beach. There, in down the path in an unassuming field, hundreds of monarchs congregate together to stay warm.

Yet this amazing phenomenon faces a sad reality: monarchs have faced declines over the past 20 years, and 2018 marked the lowest count in 5 years for the California population. Factors such as loss of flowers, degradation of stopover sites along their migration, and the loss of overwintering habitat in Mexico contribute to their decline. For more information on the monarch butterfly migration and their decline, check out our article.

Overwintering Monarch Butterflies
© 2011, Photo Library (Flickr), some rights reserved.

Park History

Aside from being an incredible beacon for California natural history, the state beach is home to California’s first surfing museum in the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse.

Visit the Park

Before visiting, please note that the monarch butterflies are only present from mid-October to mid-February.

During your visit, we recommend checking out the monarch butterflies in the grove of trees out in the field. We also recommend stopping by the lighthouse and surfing museum across the street from the parking lot, as well as scenic views of surfers catching waves off the coast.

Here are some helpful resources to help plan your visit:


Author: Taylor Crisologo

Taylor studied biology at Cornell University, where she worked with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology on projects ranging from breeding herring gulls off the coast of Maine to dancing lyrebirds in Australia’s Blue Mountains. When she’s not researching great places to experience Bay Area nature, you can find her birding or reading a book at home with her husband and their two indoor cats (Max and Penelope).

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